Mom of Four: “I Never Thought I Could Be an Athlete”

Written by: on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
TriathleteAuroraGonzalezColello

Aurora with her four children and husband.

Just five years ago, San Diego-based Aurora Gonzalez Colello—now 40—was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis); 10 lesions were discovered on her brain, through an MRI, after excruciating pain caused vision loss in one eye. She was told by her doctor not to exercise (heating up the body during exercise has been known to trigger MS symptoms like vision loss, fatigue, numbness, dizziness, memory problems, and balance problems) and to accept the fact that she had a progressive incurable disease and might never gain her full vision back.

This year, on Saturday, September 7—along with 5, 499 other athletes—she’ll swim almost a mile in the Pacific Ocean, bike almost 25 miles along

AuroraGonzalezColelloRunningDuringaTriathlon

Aurora finds time to train whenever she can—sometimes fitting it in while her kids are at sports practice.

the Pacific Coast Highway in California, and run more than 6 miles along the sands of Zuma Beach—one of the largest beaches in Los Angeles County. Despite her doctor’s warnings about exercise and accepting her “fate”, Aurora is planning on finishing strong in the 27th annual Nautica Malibu Triathlon presented by Equinox.

“This is a race that I’ve been wanting to do. It’s a great race; it’s a beautiful place to race. I’ve been training hard for it,” says Aurora, who has taken not one of the 21 triathlons she’s already participated in for granted. “I started off with a sprint distance triathlon in a bay and gradually worked my way up to this point, with ocean swims.” Last year, she did a half IronMan (1.2 mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1 mile run).

But ask this mom of four kids (ages 12, 10, 7, and 5)—all of whom are home-schooled by her—how she finds the time to train for an event like this, and she says: “If you want something bad enough, you’ll let go of the stuff that’s not important and fit it in.”

How she transformed her body—and took charge of her disease

Before she was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) in 2008, at the age of 35, Aurora never worried much about her body—or her health. “I was thin. I ate whatever I wanted (and didn’t really eat well) and never really needed to work out,” she says. “I thought: ‘I’m skinny so I’m healthy’. I couldn’t run a mile without stopping.”

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Aurora finishing the ocean swim part of a triathlon (not easy!).

And then everything changed. Aurora started getting a pain in the back of her right eye that became excruciating. Then she lost her vision in that same eye.

After her diagnosis, she panicked. “I was scared,” she says. “I was in this constant paranoia about my health—and about what was going to happen to me and my body.”

Having been told she has a progressive incurable disease—and might never get her vision back—Aurora sent an e-mail to everyone she knew, asking their advice, experts they knew of who treated MS, and anyone they knew of with the disease. “I got a list of 15 to 20 names of people who I could talk to,” she explains. “One of those people was going to a holistic center. Another recommended an Ayurvedic neurologist. I went to see both.” That decision to break out of her box with regard to what could help her is what changed the course of Aurora’s illness—and her health—for the better.

“I had a lot of blood tests—and they came back saying I was deficient in just about every vitamin and mineral, including vitamin D and all the B vitamins,” says Aurora, who explains that’s what prompted her to radically change her diet and her lifestyle.

Exercise: While her conventional doctor told to be careful with exercise, Aurora researched the benefits of exercise and found that it could help MS patients. (One study, in particular, found that highly fit MS patients perform significantly better on tests of cognitive function

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Fit, happy, and healthy—Aurora's whole life changed when she overhauled her diet and started training for triathlons.

than those less fit peers. The study, published in the journal Brain Research, found that highly fit MS patients actually had fewer brain lesions—which could account for the cognitive differences.

“The truth is I started training for a triathlon because my doctors told me I couldn’t,” she says. “I was very scared when I started training, but I started slow.” She also overhauled her diet with the help of the holistic medical center—and her Ayurvedic neurologist.

Diet:“My Ayurvedic neurologist taught me about herbs and eating to

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Crossing the finish line with her kids!

prevent inflammation,” says Aurora. “Now I’m on an anti-inflammatory diet—no boxed or processed foods, only natural whole foods. It’s a Paleo way of eating.”

“I used to be addicted to sugar,” she says.  “I used to need my coffee with tons of sugar—and candy bars every day at 3 p.m. But the first thing I noticed when I changed my diet is that I wasn’t craving sugar any more.” (Sugar has been shown to create inflammation in the body.)

Lifestyle: “I have to get enough sleep,” says Aurora. “Sleep is huge for me. My neurologist told me I need to be in bed by 10 every night and get 11 or 12 hours of sleep. When I start slacking off on sleep, on my diet, on my supplements, the symptoms start: my arms get numb, I get shooting pain along the side of my face. As a result, I don’t slack off any more. I can’t.”

“It’s been 5 years now,” says Aurora. “All my lesions, every single one of them, are gone right now—and I know exactly what I need to do to keep the disease at bay. But the lesions and symptoms will come back if I start slacking off.”

“I didn’t know what healthy was until I experienced true health,” says Aurora, who founded a blog healthyinheels.net about living a healthy lifestyle. “I just wish more women would be open to this fact—so much of it is fitness and diet and how you’re living; just make these changes and you’ll see big benefits.”

“I’m an athlete now but I’d never thought I’d be this person,” says Aurora. “My husband even told me, ‘I can’t believe this is you.’”

Aurora’s Healthy Living Tips:

 • Re-think your mindset. “When I was first diagnosed, I was crying and so upset after hearing about the course of the disease and all the symptoms I’d be experiencing,” says Aurora. “But what I quickly came to realize is that having an illness is so much about your mindset. All the experts tell you what to expect; they put you in a box with symptoms. But each disease is unique to each individual; you don’t have to experience those symptoms.”

• Be open to things. “Whether you’re diagnosed with a disease or not, live a preventive life,” says Aurora. “Be open to things that may seem weird or out of the box like Ayurveda and natural or holistic or integrative medicine. These may be the things that can really help you; they’re about finding the root cause of your problem. They look at the whole person.”

Don’t be intimated by fitness. “Don’t ever say, “I could never run or do a race.’ Anyone can do it. Anyone can improve their fitness level,” says Aurora, who adds: “Work toward something. So many of us don’t ever give ourselves a chance to be what we want in the future. We limit ourselves. Don’t ever limit yourself.”

The quote I live my life by: “Life your life today like no one else so you’re not regretting it later on; don’t follow what everyone else is doing.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Flat Abs, Firm Butt, Strong Legs Workout: Try It!

Written by: on Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
flat abs on fit woman

Consistent strength training—and cardio—will help transform your body.

If you’re looking for a good workout to get you toned from head to toe, this is it (and it’s just the first in a new series of workouts being featured here). Created by New York City-based Equinox trainer Katherine Roberts-Hill, it’s meant to ease anyone into a total body workout. She created it for me as I needed a not-too-difficult workout to start on after having a baby about 10 weeks ago. I’ll be adding this to my cardio (elliptical and swimming) workouts. Keep me posted on your progress (I’ll be keeping you posted on mine)!

Disclaimer: You should have your doctor’s okay before starting any exercise program—and if you have questions about any of these moves, ask a trainer at your gym for help. If you feel pain or discomfort, STOP. Do not continue exercising and work with a professional before starting up again. We want people to get fit—not hurt!

How often to do it
This is the first workout for 2 weeks. Try to get in 2-3 workouts each week. It should take 40-50 minutes with a warm up and 15-20 minutes of cardio. Choose 7 exercises each time (you can mix it up).

Plus…
Prior to the warm-up, do myofascial release on your legs with the use of a foam roller (from $11.95 at powersystems.com). To see how to do this, watch this video >

Workout Plan

ACTIVITY  TYPE  SETS   REPS   DURATION   WEIGHT   INTENSITY   REST
Squat to Shoulder Press – 2 Arm  Strength  3 15-20 20 lbs  –
Lunge – Forward  Strength 3 15 30 lbs 75%  60 sec
Squat – Front with Barbell  Strength 3 20 20 lbs 75%  60 sec
Chest Press – Incline Dumbbell  Strength 3  –
Supine Triple Flexion to Extension – Alternating Leg  Strength  –
Abs – Backstroke  Toning 3 20
Side Iso-abs with Crunch  Toning 3 15 30 sec  –
Lat Pulldown – Standing (Free Motion)  Strength 3 15 40 lbs
Stability Ball Pull-Over  Strength 3 20 15 lbs

Cool Down

The cool-down should consist of some light walking and stretching for about 5 minutes.

SQUAT TO SHOULDER PRESS – 2 ARM
Reps:  15-20 Sets:  3
Weight:  20 lbs
To start:

  • Begin with feet shoulder-width apart, feet pointing straight ahead.
  • Start with dumbbells at shoulder level, palms facing forward.
Movement:

  • Perform a squat as deep as you can (A).
  • Squat up to starting position; perform a shoulder press (B).
  • Lower weight slowly, then repeat.

A

B

LUNGE – FORWARD
Reps:  15 Sets:  3 Intensity:  75%
Weight:  30 lbs Rest:  60 sec
To start:

  • Stand in proper alignment with hands on hips.
  • Place feet straight ahead and shoulder width apart.
Movement:

  • Draw lower abs inward toward spine (activating the deep stabilizing mechanism).
  • Step forward and descend slowly by bending at the hips, knees and ankles (A). During the descent maintain weight distribution between the heels and mid-foot. Don’t allow feet to cave inward or shift outward. (Knees should be between first and second toes.)
  • Perform downward reps slowly and concentrate on the descent and the alignment of your body. Only descend down as far as you can maintain optimal alignment, keeping upper torso erect. (Leaning forward can injure the spine, knee, and ankle.)

A


SQUAT – FRONT WITH BARBELL
Reps:  20 Sets:  3 Intensity:  75%
Weight:  20 lbs Rest:  60 sec
To start:

  • Stand with feet pointed STRAIGHT AHEAD with a barbell placed comfortably on the top back of shoulders (A). Be sure to position your head up over shoulders and shoulders in line with hips (i.e., neutral spine).
Movement:

  • Draw your belly button inward toward your spine (from the start position).
  • Descend slowly by bending at knees and hips (B). Maintain weight distribution between mid-foot and heels. Don’t allow feet to cave inward or shift outward.
  • Push up through the feet extending the ankle, knee and hip joints while weight is evenly distributed between heels and mid-foot. Don’t allow weight to shift toward toes. (Knees should track over the second and third toe.)
  • Perform downward reps slowly, concentrating on proper alignment of body.
  • Descend as far as you can control. Partial squats should progress to full squats as you get better at this exercise.
  • Note: This should be back loaded (on the shoulders with a barbell). If it is too difficult to do, use 2, 15-lb dumbbells.

A

B

CHEST PRESS – INCLINE DUMBBELL
Reps:  20 Sets:  3
Weight:  12.5 lbs each hand
To start:

  • Lie on bench with feet straight and flat on the ground.
  • Position dumbbells, arms fully extended, over lower part of shoulders, not the head.
Movement:

  • Draw belly button inward toward your spine.
  • Slowly, lower your elbows out and down, maintaining wrist position over the elbows (A).
  • Continue to lower the weight until your upper arms are level with the shoulders.
  • Move elbows up and in toward center to return (B). This will create a triangular motion. Wrist should maintain a neutral position. Keep dumbbells over wrists throughout entire exercise.

A

B

Note: Maintain proper posture, as the weight is lowered. DO NOT allow your head to “jut” forward.
SUPINE TRIPLE FLEXION TO EXTENSION – ALTERNATING LEG
To start:

  • Lie with back flat on the ground, knees bent 90°, and place hands on the ground by your side (A).
  • Activate core with a drawing in and pelvic floor contraction.
Movement:

  • Lift BOTH legs off the ground.
  • Extend one leg into triple extension.
  • Simultaneously alternate each leg from flexion to extension (B), keeping head relaxed on mat while maintaining good upper body posture.

A

B

ABS – BACKSTROKE
Reps:  20 Sets:  3


To start:

  • Maintain good posture throughout the exercise with shoulder blades retracted and down, good stability through the abs, and neutral spine angles.
Movement:

  • Begin in a crunch position (shoulders slightly off the mat), ensuring that spine is ‘long’ and not excessively rounded. Hands are to the side, palms facing up (as shown).
  • Perform a backstroke motion with one hand (A), while holding the crunch.
  • Return hand to the side and alternate sides (B), once the backstroke motion has been completed.

A

B

SIDE ISO-ABS WITH CRUNCH
Reps:  15 Sets:  3
Duration:  30 sec

To start:

  • Make sure you’ve done a quick warm-up prior to doing this exercise.
Movement:

  • Take the top arm, place the hand behind the ear (A) and rotate elbow towards ground (B). Ensure body line is straight, visual gaze is straight ahead and shoulders and trunk rotate.
  • Repeat for desired number of repetitions.

A

B

LAT PULLDOWN – STANDING (FREE MOTION)
Reps:  15 Sets:  3
Weight:  40 lbs

To start:

  • Adjust cable arms as shown.
  • Stand in squat position (facing Cable Cross), knees bent, maintaining good posture with arms outstretched. Grasp handles (A).
Movement:

  • Brace spine by drawing your lower abdomen in.
  • Start movement by pulling elbows into side of body (B), maintaining proper posture.
  • Check alignment and positioning and repeat press.
  • Squat deeper or adjust back from Cable Cross if weight stack touches at end range of motion.
  • Variations: Try various grip positions, Single arm alternating.

A

B

STABILITY BALL PULL-OVER
Reps:  20 Sets:  3
Weight:  15 lbs

To start:

  • Adjust the column toward top and place stability ball in front of column.
Movement:

  • Hold the triceps rope above head with straight arms, sitting on stability ball facing away from the machine (A).
  • Engage abs, and roll body and arms out parallel to the floor (B).
  • Pull arms back over head to starting position.

A

B